Rämö considers Iceland's mandatory 3-month paternity leave for all fathers to be an excellent initiative.SATU Rämö did not prepare plum mash for her child. Instead, she sought out interesting work opportunities. She believes that mediocrity is enough when it comes to being a mother.

In a Reykjavik hospital where the 30-year-old Rämö gave birth she makes a painful mistake.

The hospital has two wards: the organic side and the regular hospital.

"The non-medication section has a pool, family room and double bed. The husband is also provided with free food," the nurse persuades.

Rämö thinks of the warmth of the pool and the soft double bed. There they would all rest after labour: Rämö, her husband and their newborn child.

She decides to give birth without medication, which turned out to be a mistake.

"God damn, I can't recommend it to anyone," she splurges now, some four years after the painful ordeal.

"Nurses asked me if I wanted to sing a labour song that would alleviate the pain. I would have rather punched them in the face."

In other words, childbirth without medication was not her thing. Also other recommendations by the so-called good mothers have been shunned in Rämö and Katja Lahti's Vuoden Mutsi books (Mom of the Year). The most recent one was published a few weeks ago, and it provides everyday stories on children by women who call themselves average moms after spending a year with the baby.

Rämö believes that becoming a mother does not have to change a person. Because she was not someone who put plum mash in the freezer or did handicrafts in the first place, Rämö did not become such a person after her child was born, either. She did not want to breastfeed for long or be the only one getting up at night for the baby. Because Rämö thought it was nice to stop in at a bar for a beer, she saw no reason not to do so with a child as well.

Satu Rämö

• 34-year-old Master of Economic Sciences, writer, blogger, design entrepreneur and journalist focussed on travel.

• Published a travel guide called Mondo Travel as well as the maternity guides Vuoden mutsi (Avain 2012) and Vuoden mutsi 2 (Otava 2014) with Katja Lahti.

• Lives in Reykjavik with her husband and four-year-old daughter.

• Writes about her life in her blog called Salamatkustaja.

• Sells Finnish design in her Suomi PRKL! Design store in the Reykjavik city centre.

• Interests include travel, reading and running.

Change of plans

Originally Rämö did not plan on becoming a mother. She traveled, worked as a partner in a PR agency, edited business books and did writing of her own. As a student of economic sciences in her twenties she went on a year-long exchange visit to Iceland and fell in love with the country.

"The city centre of Reykjavik consists of only one or two streets with loads of bars. Everything is conveniently located side-by-side, and when it ends, only incredible nature lies ahead. The contrast was impressive."

After the exchange year Rämö soon wanted to return to Iceland. Several times. During the trips she hitchhiked around the island with friends and grew more attached to the country.

During one occasion when she was at a bar in Reykjavik she met a man named Björgvin Hilmarsson. As it happened, Hilmarsson had been an exchange student in Finland around the same time Rämö had been in Iceland. He spoke to Rämö of Kalervo Palsa's paintings, and offered Icelandic skyr with whipped cream.

For two years Rämö and Björgvin dated around the world. Dates were often located in Copenhagen or London, as they were affordable options for both. When they had just started going out they traveled around Cuba together.

The future was also discussed. For Björgvin it was a given that he wanted children. For Rämö it was evident that she most likely did not want children. "We'll talk about that later," Rämö always said, when conversation approached the subject of babies.

Until one day the pregnancy test indicated that it no longer called for discussion. The child was on the way. "I stopped and thought about my situation. I was 30 years old, we were both healthy and well. I decided it is just going to happen."

At that point Rämö and Björgvin lived in a light gray house of stone in the Reykjavik city centre. They put the baby cradle in the bedroom.

Baby fear and opportunities

Rämö never thought that the child would ruin her life. Yet she was so frightened. Frightened and annoyed. She was annoyed by the pink world of baby magazines where decent mothers only thought of what was best for their children.

Rämö was worried about the kind of person that was growing inside her. What if the child turned out to be a serial killer? Or she would become a bog monster weighing a hundred kilos who would only exude milk and be able to breast-feed.

During the child's first months it seemed that the latter had become true. Rämö could not understand why the baby had to constantly feed. She sat on the sofa with the baby on her chest and breast-fed. Since holding a book while breast-feeding was difficult, Rämö downloaded police TV shows on her laptop and watched ten episodes in a day. It was winter and the wind blew 30 metres in a second; hardly a climate for pushing the strollers outside.

When the daughter was three months old a volcano called Eyjafjajökull erupted in Iceland. The Finnish media craved stories, but they could not send anyone on location, as the ash cloud had halted air traffic.

It was a work opportunity Rämö and Björgvin could not miss. They placed their daughter in the care of the mother-in-law and drove towards the volcano. As she left, Rämö had pumped her breasts so that the baby would be able to feed the entire day.

Unfortunately Rämö forgot the breast pump at home. Rämö interviewed Icelandic sheep breeders with a respirator and felt milk running down her bra. "That's when I thought if that's what it is like to coordinate work and family."

Blogging for baby

Early on during her pregnancy she had started to keep a blog titled Salamatkustaja (Stowaway), where she wrote down thoughts on her thoughts and observations. As it happened, she found another Finnish maternity blog written by someone who appeared to be as confused as she was.

The women began to comment on each other's writings, and found that they agreed on almost everything. How annoying it is, for example, when people start to sweet-talk to expecting mothers, and others even consider it their right to touch the growing stomach.

"After keeping in touch for some time, I suggested that we should write a book together. I was sure that other mothers felt the same way about things," Rämö says.

How can one, for example, deal with a baby who wants to feed every fifteen minutes on a drive of over hundred kilometres. Or why after birth a relationship inevitably involves arguments over who will change the diaper.

Because Katja Lahti lived in Finland and Rämö in Iceland, the writers only met as they were taking the manuscript to a publisher. The first Vuoden Mutsi came out in 2012.

Change of perspective

During her year with a baby Rämö realised that being a mother was not as bad as she had imagined. The more she grew, the more predictable life became again, almost how it used to be – only more fun.

When the baby was six months old Rämö began to work daily again. Björgvin stayed home with their daughter for six months, after which the mother-in-law took care of the child for a further six months. In Iceland the parental leave involves a mandatory three-month period for the father that cannot be transferred to the mother. Rämö considers it excellent.

"The effects are evident on the kindergarten grounds in the afternoon. They have as many fathers as they have mothers there."

Rämö believes that fathers should take care of children at home, and it cannot be overruled by saying the man has to return to work due to higher wages.

"Hello! That way, women's wages never improve."

In Iceland the custom has resulted in women of reproductive age no longer being discriminated in the labour market. Regardless of sex everyone stays home with their children for some time. The expenses are not the employer's to pay; instead parental leave is funded much like health insurance, by funds paid from the wages of employees without children as well.

Rämö believes that spouses can well agree for the mother to stay home with the child for three years if the person staying at home does not have to pay for the child's clothes and other expenses with only welfare money and minimal income. The effects of staying at home on pension should also be noted.

"It is more lucrative for the stay-at-home-parent to buy stock than new strollers," Rämö says.

Then, all of a sudden, Rämö and Björgvin's family no longer consisted of a resting baby, but a walking, talking small child. The kind who notices when mother has a ton of sweets in her mouth, and the kind who picks up on all that is said.

"Let's go to the goddamn playground, already," the child says, and Rämö vows in her mind never to swear again.

Although, who would understand it in Iceland, anyway.

Annakaisa Mänttäri – HS
Annika Rautakoura – HT
Image: Helsingin Sanomat